Nazi hunter denounces Austria as a 'paradise for war criminals'

A director of the Simon Wiesenthal Centre has described Austria as a "paradise for Nazi war criminals" and bitterly criticised its government and legal authorities for failing to bring suspected Holocaust perpetrators to justice.

Efraim Zuroff, the director of the centre's Jerusalem branch, accused Austria of being utterly complacent. "Austria is a paradise for Nazi war criminals," Mr Zuroff told a press conference in Vienna. "Its investigation of suspects is inadequate and the legal position is outrageous. In Austria war criminals are freely able to talk about their crimes," he added.

Mr Zuroff's broadside followed a meeting he held yesterday with the Austrian Interior and Justice ministers as part of the Wiesenthal Centre's Operation Last Chance, which is trying to bring elderly Nazi war crimes suspects to trial before they die.

The Wiesenthal Centre has identified 83 suspects in Austria who are still alive. But Mr Zuroff said that the 77 suspects currently being investigated by the Austrian authorities were being dealt with "slowly and passively" and that little effort was being made to press charges against them.

They include Aribert Heim, a medical doctor who experimented on Jewish prisoners at the Mauthausen concentration camp; Millivoj Asner, a former Croatian police officer suspected of sending hundreds to the death camps and Erna Wallisch, a concentration camp guard who allegedly escorted prisoners to the gas chambers.

Of the three, Heim is the most notorious Nazi still on the run. He murdered hundreds of prisoners at the Mauthausen camp by conducting gratuitous medical experiments on them during the seven weeks that he spent there in 1941.

A court that tried Heim in his absence in 1979 concluded that he "wallowed in the fear of death suffered by his victims" while performing brutal operations on fully conscious prisoners. Austria launched a criminal investigation into his case in 1957. He is now 91 and there have been alleged sightings of him in South America, Egypt, Spain and Germany.

However, Mr Zuroff said yesterday that he had been told by Karin Gastinger, the Austrian Justice Minister, that "a new law" would be needed if Austria was to contribute to increasing the $325,000 (£180,000) reward currently offered by Germany and the Wiesenthal Centre for information leading to Heim's arrest.

"We don't need a new law to be passed. We need action," Mr Zuroff said. "If Heim is caught alive and brought to justice, there is no question that it will be the most important Nazi war crimes trial in 30 years," he added.

Mr Zuroff also accused the Austrian authorities of dragging their feet in the case of Asner, who holds dual Austrian and Croatian citizenship.

Croatia charged Asner with crimes against humanity last year and asked Austria to extradite him to stand trial. Austria refused on the ground that he held Austrian citizenship.

"The terrible reality of this country is that Asner cannot be brought to trial in Austria for his crimes," Mr Zuroff said. "Austria owes it to the victims of the Nazi regime to to do everything in its power to bring suspected war criminals to justice," he added.

The Austrian government would not comment on Mr Zuroff's criticisms yesterday.

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
ebooksAn unforgettable anthology of contemporary reportage
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Recruitment Genius: Business Development Manager / Sales - OTE £45,000

£35000 - £45000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This company is a solutions / s...

Recruitment Genius: Sales Executive - OTE £45,000

£18000 - £45000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: A Sales Executive is required t...

Recruitment Genius: Test Development Engineer

£35000 - £40000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Are you inspired to bring new a...

Recruitment Genius: Trainee Motor Engineer

£14000 - £18000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This is an exciting opportunity...

Day In a Page

Sepp Blatter resignation: The beginning of Fifa's long road to reform?

Does Blatter's departure mean Fifa will automatically clean up its act?

Don't bet on it, says Tom Peck
Charles Kennedy: The baby of the House who grew into a Lib Dem giant

The baby of the House who grew into a Lib Dem giant

Charles Kennedy was consistently a man of the centre-left, dedicated to social justice, but was also a champion of liberty and an opponent of the nanny-state, says Baroness Williams
Syria civil war: The harrowing testament of a five-year-old victim of this endless conflict

The harrowing testament of a five-year-old victim of Syria's endless civil war

Sahar Qanbar lost her mother and brother as civilians and government soldiers fought side by side after being surrounded by brutal Islamist fighters. Robert Fisk visited her
The future of songwriting: How streaming is changing everything we know about making music

The future of songwriting

How streaming is changing everything we know about making music
William Shemin and Henry Johnson: Jewish and black soldiers receive World War I Medal of Honor amid claims of discrimination

Recognition at long last

Jewish and black soldiers who fought in WWI finally receive medals after claims of discrimination
Beating obesity: The new pacemaker which helps over-eaters

Beating obesity

The new pacemaker which helps over-eaters
9 best women's festival waterproofs

Ready for rain: 9 best women's festival waterproofs

These are the macs to keep your denim dry and your hair frizz-free(ish)
Cycling World Hour Record: Nervous Sir Bradley Wiggins ready for pain as he prepares to go distance

Wiggins worried

Nervous Sir Bradley ready for pain as he prepares to attempt cycling's World Hour Record
Liverpool close in on Milner signing

Liverpool close in on Milner signing

Reds baulk at Christian Benteke £32.5m release clause
On your feet! Spending at least two hours a day standing reduces the risk of heart attacks, cancer and diabetes, according to new research

On your feet!

Spending half the day standing 'reduces risk of heart attacks and cancer'
With scores of surgeries closing, what hope is there for the David Cameron's promise of 5,000 more GPs and a 24/7 NHS?

The big NHS question

Why are there so few new GPs when so many want to study medicine?
Big knickers are back: Thongs ain't what they used to be

Thongs ain't what they used to be

Big knickers are back
Thurston Moore interview

Thurston Moore interview

On living in London, Sonic Youth and musical memoirs
In full bloom

In full bloom

Floral print womenswear
From leading man to Elephant Man, Bradley Cooper is terrific

From leading man to Elephant Man

Bradley Cooper is terrific